The Wacky Walls of Buenos Aires

Grafitti in San Telmo Argentina
Maybe an opticians during the week?

Buenos Aires has some incredibly colourful and wacky art on its walls. Everything from schools, shops, houses and markets are decorated with explosions of colour of varying artistic merit. Most aren’t overtly political, many are quite obscure, and some directly relate to what the building does. It certainly livens up our frequent wanderings around our neighbourhood.

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Our local fish and vegetable market
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School playground
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One of our local schools… 

Graffiti San Telmo Argentina

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Some stunning mosaics too… 

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Sunday Afternoon Tango in Buenos Aires

Tango in Dorrego Square, Buenos Aires
Tango in Dorrego Square, Buenos Aires

On our last Sunday afternoon we decided we really should do something ‘typical’ in Buenos Aires. And what could be more typical than tango?

Instead of going to one of the hugely expensive tango shows (where dinner is included and starts at 10pm, after which the show starts), we decided to try something a little more down to earth, and headed to San Telmo district, where we were told there was more informal tango in some of the squares.

After elbowing our way through the crowds that had gathered for the Sunday flea market, which spreads across a vast area of the barrio and has everything from genuine antiques to beautiful crafts and pottery to ‘designer’ gear, we came across a crowd of locals and foreigners alike surrounding a makeshift dance floor in a shady square. The dancers took it in turns to strut their stuff, and there was most definitely a range of abilities, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it, despite the very serious ‘tango faces’ during the actual performances.

We spent a good hour enjoying the show (and doing our best ‘Craig the mean judge from strictly’ impressions) and it was a lovely way to pass a hot and humid Sunday afternoon.

Check out this small clip of our favourites:

Chinese New Year in Buenos Aires.

Chinese new year celebrations in Buenos Aires gave us more insights into Argentina than into China….

Chinese teen pop group on stage at the celebrations in Buenos Aires
Chinese teen pop group on stage at the celebrations in Buenos Aires

Last weekend was Chinese New Year, and a big celebration was to be held in one of the parks about 40 minutes’ walk from our place. We decided to go along and check it out. I thought it might be an opportunity to expose Lauren to some Chinese culture.

It was a strange event.

First of all, we struggled to see any Chinese people. I get the impression there were wild celebrations happening somewhere else, and this was just an excuse for the locals to enjoy the sunshine and the city to gain some inclusivity brownie points.

I felt like grabbing one of the very few Chinese people I saw and asking where’s the real party at?

The place was heaving with portenos who’d brought rugs and even camping chairs as well as picnics and flasks of mate and of course their dogs. On stage when we arrived were two very non-chinese-looking singers, singing in Spanish…. Admittedly under a trio of red Chinese lanterns…

We fought our way through the crowds to some of the stalls – I fancied some Chinese food and Lauren was excited to taste something new – but when we could get close enough to see the handwritten menus, they were all empanadas or other local dishes. Much as I love empanadas, I’d been fantasizing about noodles, stir fries and spring rolls. Maybe even something picante.

Finally, the singers on stage were replaced by what was breathlessly introduced as Buenos Aires’s only Chinese teen-pop dance group …. a bunch of young teens dressed up as naughty schoolgirls going through a frankly bizarre pop routine to pounding chinese pop. Let’s be kind and say the performance might have benefitted from a little extra rehearsal time.

In the meantime, we tracked down something genuinely Chinese – a kung fu demo – although all those participating were local. It was quite fun, although I wasn’t quite comfortable with how close the swirling swords and pikes came to Lauren’s face.… health and safety approved this was not.

Buenos Aires Kung Fu demonstration
Those pikes and swords weren’t real but they still came awfully close …

We also found some Argentinian acupuncturists, one of whom explained pressure points and acupuncture to Lauren, who seemed blown away by the fact that mummy had done something as alternative and weird (her word) as acupuncture when going through IVF to conceive her.

We were just about to leave when a dancing dragon took to the stage, and as we stopped to watch I spotted a stand we hadn’t seen before, on the other side, which was selling fortune cookies, next door to a place frying up genuinely greasy Chinese food. Success! Something actually Chinese. We stocked up on cookies and oily balls of fried vegetables in various shapes, and happily munched on them as we finally made our escape from the crowds and wandered through the parks and quiet streets back to our apartment.

Fortune cookie at chinese new year, buenos aires
Lauren’s first fortune cookie…

All in all, I’m glad we went – but I think we learned more about Argentina than about China.

That’s OK, maybe we will just have to include China on our future itinerary  …

A Day of Contrasts

Now I don’t want this to come off as too negative, but Argentina can be jolly hard work. Today we had two tasks – change some money, and buy some credit for my phone.

This literally took most of the day.

I had been told to bring lots of cash (dollars, or euros) rather than relying on ATMs. So I did. I have been able to pay for a number of things with my no-fees, perfect-exchange-rate credit card, so that’s been good when it works, but then it has also been randomly rejected at times forcing me to use cash or other cards with big fees/commissions. Getting money out of ATMs with that card costs 6 pounds a go, and when you can only get 74 pounds per transaction, that’s huge! But for any other card, its 6 pounds a go plus whatever my home bank charges. So I could easily be paying 10% of your cash in ATM fees!

I was told by our hotel reception that if I had notes smaller than 100 USD or 100 Euro, that exchange houses may not want them, or give me a worse rate. Bonkers as this may seem, this tallied with other reports I’d seen of casas de cambios refusing smaller notes or giving much worse rates for them. So we headed off to the Santander Bank, 5 minutes from the hotel. The queue was immense and luckily a security guard told us right off that the bank didn’t have an exchange function. He gave us directions to a cambio that we followed but never found (which could have been my Spanish). We then headed for another bank that we were told did do exchange.

Their queues were even more immense (I counted 47 people just queuing to use the ATM – inside there were many more) and to even get in a queue you had to get a ticket from an electronic machine – but to get a ticket you had to input your tax ID number. There was literally no other option, and no helpful information desk. Hmmm. I asked a guy standing patiently behind us while I tried to work out what to do, and he said they also had no cambio. By this point we had traversed half of Iguazu – a town, let me remind you, that borders two different countries and receives millions of international tourists a year.

We were then directed to a cambio across the road – it was supposed to close at 12.30 and by now it was 12.20, so wonderful, we were in luck! Erm… no. It was closed already, and would only reopen at 4.30.  By this point, the insatiable black hole that is Lauren’s stomach was getting grumpy and noises were being made about lunch… but I was reluctant to completely wipe out our remaining cash. We agreed to try one more cambio place, listed on google maps. It was a fair trek and we arrived after 12.30 so with little hope, but it was open and eventually when we got served gave us a reasonable (for Argentina) rate for my cash. Phew.

So, lets have lunch.

Ah, yes, even that seems to have a system here (to be fair this is the only place that we have encountered this system, but it was not the day for it). We got to a café and sat down at a free table. Not being served after a while, we figure out you have to take a ticket and wait in line. No problem! Happy to queue! We are British after all!

Leaving Lauren at the table (guarding our masses of cash, plus the bag with my passport in as I’d needed it for money exchange) I took a ticket and joined the huddle of people round the counter. When it was my turn I ordered. I was then given a piece of paper with my order on it. I then had to join another queue to get the drinks, and then another queue to pay – presenting my bit of paper and the bottle of water I’d chosen. Once I’d paid, (with my card, which required me to enter my pin, sign my name, and present my passport so they could write down the passport number) I then had to go to a different part of the first counter, with my bit of paper now stamped, and give it to the woman there. She had my order prepared and there next to her, but did she at this point (queue number 4 remember…) hand it over to me?

Oh no, she took my bit of paper and told me to sit down!!!! After about ten minutes she brought it over! Luckily just sandwiches and nothing hot as it would have been stone cold by then.

After lunch we felt sufficiently revived to tackle the task of buying credit for my phone.

I should say that the process of getting the sim card had previously taken 2 visits to the phone company, the entering of immensely detailed information into their system, presentation of my passport, and then being told that the phone company could only provide the sim card, not any actual credit, for which we needed to go to a service station.

Various places around Iguazu have the Movistar sticker in the window, but only sell the sim card, not credit. It seems like only service stations sell credit. Oh, and you can’t pay for credit using a card, or online, and if you have a phone bought outside the country it won’t let you download the app to manage your account. Nowhere on your phone menu does it tell you what your number is, nor is this on the information that comes with the sim card, so woe betide anyone who loses the post-it note the phone company gives you with your number on. Because without knowing your number you can’t buy credit.

We headed off to the shell garage, braced for drama, but in actual fact the guy there was very pleasant – he couldn’t work out one of the numbers on the aforementioned post-it note (I only use my phone for data so have had no need to find out my number after the initial top up) so he kindly used his own phone to phone me and check, before selling me 200 pesos worth of credit for …… 210 pesos…. Whatever.

So by the time we had changed money, had lunch and bought phone credit, having seen most of the town in the process, we felt we were entitled to a quiet afternoon under the AC, catching up on emails, and watching TV. Sometimes, travel is exhausting and some downtime is needed.

Given it was such an arduous day, we treated ourselves to dinner ‘out-out’ (as in, at a nice restaurant as opposed to the cheapest café we can find something reasonable in – I do miss cooking) and so the travails of the day were soundly compensated for by our first taste of Argentinian steak – yes, it was as good as everyone says, check out Lauren’s face below, she ate two thirds of my steak – and I even treated myself to a caipirinha.

Well-deserved bliss.